Earlier this month, it was confirmed that the Australian Coalition government would not be sending its environment minister, Greg Hunt, to the latest string of UN climate talks in Warsaw, Poland.
Instead, it has opted to send government diplomat Justin Lee. It is the first time that Australia has failed to send a government minister since the Kyoto Accord in 1997, and the move has been heavily criticised by the previous Labor government’s environment minister, Mark Butler. He accused the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, of denying the science of climate change and of not taking the issue seriously enough, stating that “when it comes to climate change, the Coalition has proved itself to be an embarrassment on the world stage”.
The Coalition government’s lack of sympathy towards efforts to mitigate climate change was made evident on its election, when it announced that the first item of legislative business would be to revoke the carbon tax introduced by the previous administration. Although this makes costs lower for Australian businesses in the short term, such a decision could potentially discourage innovation and renewable energy integration into business operations, weakening Australia’s resilience to climate change and stretching resources in the long run.
The decision has coincided with a number of other recent events which have together raised questions about what Australia’s future approach to climate change policy might be. Former Australian prime minister John Howard, speaking to reporters before his address to the Global Warming Policy Foundation – an organisation founded by leading British climate change sceptic Nigel Lawson – recently said that “people who believe climate change will be catastrophic for the world are zealots who have adopted the cause as a substitute religion”.
However, despite making such bold comments, Howard admitted that he had only ever read one book on climate change: Lawson’s An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming. With figures of such authority making statements so at odds with the scientific consensus that warming is ‘unequivocal’ and largely anthropogenic, it begs the question: should undereducated opinion really take precedence over the vast majority of scientific evidence when it comes to shaping a national approach towards climate change policy? Probably not.
With suggestions that the new Australian cabinet are also rethinking their backing of the Green Climate Fund, an international fund aimed at helping developing countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change and develop sustainably, it appears that climate change is taking a back seat in the Australian agenda at a time when the issue is of ever increasing importance.